USA France (86 mi) 2010 ‘Scope d: Gregg Araki
Queer film fantasia at its finest, actually shot in ‘Scope, a first for Araki who returns to his filmmaking roots where he is constantly having a blast with this candy-colored material where he imagines being 18 again, set from the perspective of the New Order (not “the seminal band of the 80’s”) in the universe, where strange is the new normal. The entire story revolves around a single character, Smith (Thomas Dekker), a bisexually curious college student whose dreams, everyday gay fantasies and thoughts are embellished onscreen with little left to the imagination, where constant blasts of lurid sexual imagery bombard the voyeuristic impulses from the audience and pretty much typifies how college life is portrayed. It’s all about getting laid. While most students may imagine this kind of lurid sensuality, most remain alienated and alone, isolated from the rest of the world in the worst way, even as they hang around in groups as a cover so that they at least entertain the possibility that they are social creatures. Araki does wonders by turning that common perception upside down. Smith has a best friend, the constantly-at-his-side lesbian companion Stella (Haley Bennett), the acid-tongued, highly sarcastic art student that invites him to a party where he immediately sees two women he’s never met before, but seen in a constantly recurring dream. One, the voluptuously beautiful Lorelei (Roxanne Mesquida, from Catherine Breillat films), immediately goes home with Stella while Smith, who sees the other dreamgirl only instantly, the mysterious Red-haired girl (newcomer Nicole LaLiberte), is grabbed by London (yes she’s British, Juno Temple, daughter of documentary filmmaker Julien Temple), where both have near surreal sexual adventures, where Lorelei amusingly has supernatural powers where she casts a spell on her sexual partner to prolong the bliss in bed while London is simply every guy’s dream, as she won’t stop until her partner is completely satisfied. This little montage of sexual satisfaction is hilarious, as at 18, that’s never the way it actually turns out, as kids are still way too self-conscious and end up blitzed on drugs or alcohol and can barely even remember what happened other than having to lie about it afterwards.
Adding to the intrigue is Smith’s roommate Thor (Chris Zylka), seen in an opening dream montage, a blond surfer dude with marbles in his head for brains, exactly as Smith likes them, he fantasizes, but Thor insists he’s straight, while an amusing theme recurs throughout the film where this declaration is constantly in doubt. Out of nowhere, Smith imagines he was attacked late one night along with the Red-haired girl by strange men in masks, where she might have been bludgeoned—cut to bright red jam in a scene at breakfast where Stella finds no evidence of any crime, but according to London, the Red-haired girl was in one of her classes and she has disappeared. This musical chairs of missing persons, men in masks, hallucinations of perceived violence, all add to a creeping sense of paranoia that begins to spread like wildfires. When cryptic messages are received, not to mention stealth computer sites that disappear in the night, Smith examines the source of these clues much like Aaron Katz uses a similar Sherlock Holmes subtext in search of a missing girl in his recent indie film COLD WEATHER (2010), both examining a different social strata. Araki embellishes the gay world with bright colors and perfect physiques, with kids that are willing to hop into bed with one another, and a movie storyline that literally takes off on its own exaggerated sense of playfulness, where bad things continue to plague the world of these otherwise adorable teenagers who mysteriously continue to take an interest in one another. Again, unlike the stagnant social lives of most teens who appear glum, moody, and continually down in the dumps, in this portrayal, someone’s always knocking on Smith’s door followed by an incessant barrage of cell phone calls of people constantly interested in seeing him.
Smith’s investigations reveal cult-like symptoms in what is perceived as normal society, where an interesting family secret escalates to grotesque behavior, where the world is run by an L. Ron Hubbard style guru who seeks world domination, yet makes dire, apocalyptic proclamations that the end is near. Poking fun at the acceptance of Scientology among the well-to-do in Hollywood circles, a movement known for its condemnation and abhorrence of homosexuality, yet accepted by a society where cult status becomes accepted as the norm, Araki uses this prevalent theme of a world falling off its axis. While the story grows ever more ridiculous, reaching comic book proportions of conspiracy theory absurdity, this insanity is seen as a looming threat that is constantly menacing Smith and the world he knows, where men in masks run a secret campaign to round up innocent victims and make them disappear, much like the Ku Klux Klan once did, reigning terror against their intended victims, a lawless sect using fear tactics and violence that spread beyond the reach of the law, seen as a totalitarian threat intent upon annihilating gays, perhaps even willing to use the New Testament as a sign to fanatically bring about ultimate doom to the entire world, literally carrying out the wishes of a new Revelations. Perhaps only in this manner can gays be eradicated from the earth. But much like DOCTOR STRANGELOVE (1964), the director relishes each and every misstep, where there are more twists and turns in this film, all shown in humorous good fun, where the finale plays like the staging of a burlesque review, where the mad romp into the ever wackier world of the absurd is an irreverent dash to the finish line. This is an insanely appealing film filled with clever twists and beautifully written dialogue that is so outrageously over the top that one can’t help but stand back and admire afterwards what a rollicking good time this was, and, like a Sirk film, that through the veneer of a film soaked in sarcasm and bright artificiality there is a glimpse of something serious lurking underneath.